Each day, I begin my ELA class with Reading Time. This is a time for students to access a range of texts. I use this time to conference with students, collect data on class patterns and trends with independent reading and to provide individualized support.
Students have recently completed reading a biography in anticipation for their research paper. It is important to assess their understanding and completion of this text. It can be incredibly challenging to assess whether or not students read a text, especially when each student reads a different text. Is it really important that students read the entire biography? Yes, but not as important as students ability to pick up on the main ideas from the text. To help me assess their understanding of the main points in the book, students will be creating a dialogue in which they argue the noteworthiness of the their research topic (which is an influential figure) with a partner.
To begin the lesson, I pull up the Biography Dialogue Project handout on the Smartboard. This explains the overall project. It is brief but explains the components of this mini-project. I read through the handout as students follow along. I also make the handout available on my web-site for access.
For this project, students will create a dialogue between their topic and a partner's topic using notes from their biography. Groups will be assigned later in the lesson. This dialogue will be a discussion between the two influential people they are researching in which they argue who is more noteworthy. They must use direct references to the biography to support their thinking. The Common Core emphasizes argumentative writing, this is a great way for students to practice those skills, along with determining main ideas and key details. The only major question that students usually ask is how much of the dialogue will be their own writing and how much will be text from the biography. It should be a balanced amount. They will also ask about requirements of length, which is four minutes.
In order to focus students thinking about argumentative writing, I also review Tips For Argument Writing In Dialogue handout. This is available on my web-site so students can refer back to it when needed. This handout discusses some of the major aspects of argument writing (point of view, refuting, word choice, and style) and how they can be applied to writing these dialogues. It is important to give students a tool like this so they can reference it on their own. By giving them the tools already it empowers them to being working right away instead of wasting time by taking notes that some of them have mastered already or that some of them don't even know where to start. Handing out these tips always helps me to differentiate instruction as needed.
Students are then assigned their partners. Since each student is researching a different influential person it can be difficult to figure out who to partner up with who. Most groups are based on topics (politicians, entertainers, etc.). This allows for students to ease into their dialogues as they write them. Others may be partnered up randomly if the numbers don't fit. I usually reserve the random partners for higher-level students. They can think abstractly when their topics are not similar. It's also important to think about the level of learners in each group. Sometimes pairing two high-level learners can be a great benefit to each other, but sometimes pairing two low-level learners can be challenging.
Since this is a group project, it is important to give students class time to work on this. It helps to facilitate collaboration amongst group members and focus students who may lose focus since they are working with their peers. It also avoids the issue of students trying to get together outside of class to work, which can always be challenging. I can also monitor to see how well groups are actually working.
The rest of the lesson gives students time to work in groups to create this dialogue. The first step students will start with is to begin brainstorming ideas. They are encouraged to talk through their notes from their biographies to see where there are similarities. Once they find similarities they can begin to frame their dialogue and start drafting this piece. These similarities are based on ideas and topics that came up in their biographies. This serves as an easy way to foster conversation amongst group members. Giving them a focus for their notes helps them to work together.
As students are working, I circulate around the classroom to answer any questions and facilitate collaboration by focusing groups as needed. Most of the questions revolve around how to begin this dialogue. I ask students to think about a setting these two people may have in common or think of a location these two people could be in. Once they determine a specific setting, they can then start thinking of lines. Other students have trouble incorporating the research. I encourage students to first create the dialogue and then go back after and revise by including the research from their notes.
Here are two videos of students as the begin to work through their thinking: